NAUGATUCK — Franklin Johnson Sr. lived his 85 years serving God, family and country, said Naugatuck Veterans’ Council Vice Chairman W. Francis Dambowsky.
Dambowsiy told a crowd of more than 200 people Thursday that while Johnson loved his community, fought for his country and prayed to God regularly to end all world conflicts, it was his family whom he loved most.
So it was only fitting that Johnson’s grandson, 11-year-old Matthew Johnson, unveiled for the first time Thursday a street sign that bestows the name of his grandfather on a downtown treet.
Like the proud soldier his grandfather was, Matthew confidently climbed a ladder to reveal the sign on the corner of Church and Division Streets that reads “Franklin Johnson Way,” as Division Street will now also be known.
Matthew’s actions brought tears to more than a few in the crowd, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder along the stairs of the Naugatuck Congregational Church and the town Green to honor Johnson, whom many called the most famous and honorable borough citizen of all time.
Almost five months after Johnson died, local officials and those who knew Johnson best made sure Thursday that generations of Naugatuck residents will remember the man’s name.
Though the street will be called Franklin Johnson Way, most who knew the humble veteran said it wouldn’t be his way to have such an honor bestowed upon himself.
“Were he here today, he would tell us all to go home,” Mayor Robert A. Mezzo said. “He would say he did not deserve an individual honor. He would urge us to instead spend our time with an aging veteran in need, or a new veteran returning from a tour of duty, or a family member who lost a loved one in conflict.”
Johnson was an Army veteran of World War II who stormed a beach at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He came back to the borough to raise a family, teach at Naugatuck High School and make sure all veterans receive the support that he believed they need and deserve.
Naugatuck native Thomas Coffey, who, along with Johnson is a member of the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame, said Johnson himself probably summed up best his own legacy.
“Frank said, ‘I was a good soldier, but I am an excellent veteran,'” Coffey said.
State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, said it’s fitting to have a street downtown named after Johnson.
“This is in the heart of Naugatuck,” she said. “And Mr. Johnson will always be in our hearts.”